From the impact of digitalisation to the changing role of the HR function,Â four HR leaders share their key priorities in the new world of work.
By Simon Kent
Rarely has the HR function faced such a time ofÂ upheaval and challenge. Caught within a rapidlyÂ changing world and facing disruptions ranging fromÂ digitalisation to demographic shifts, HR managersÂ and directors are looked to for support, direction,Â and solutions for their businessâ most important asset:Â people. Yet even with an increasingly important role inÂ the workplace, the transition from HR directorship toÂ board-level status cannot be taken for granted. Here,Â leading HR directors tackle pressing questions in orderÂ to prepare for the future of HR.
Far from being just a trend or buzzword, digitalisation isÂ a reality for businessesâand the implications are huge.Â The growing presence of sophisticated technology inÂ the workplace will change the nature of work, but itÂ will also capture data that can help drive businessesÂ forward.
Mark Stewart, HRD and general manager at Airbus,Â says that just as it is impossible to fl y an aircraftÂ without information such as altitude and air speed, itÂ is impossible to direct a business without tracking keyÂ measures. Take, for example, attrition. He says that hisÂ company captures clear reasons for employees leaving,Â enabling the business to act proactively in response.Â âYou can have great KPIs around everything,â he adds,Â âbut you need to know the real temperature of theÂ business, and that means moving on from randomÂ surveys to getting real-time data.â
The London School of Economics and Political ScienceÂ also emphasises data collection, says Director of HRÂ Indi Seehra. However, it is necessary to understandÂ the context around that data. Seehra says that hisÂ organisationâs attrition data opens the door toÂ understanding the implications of deeper businessÂ factors such as the mental health of staff and students.
In the construction industry, data collection has givenÂ HR Director Dawn Moore and her team at MorganÂ Sindall Construction & Infrastructure important insightÂ into the health and safety experience for employees,Â including the impact of sleep patterns among nightÂ workers. âThat gave us a great base for improvingÂ the terms and conditions for employees,â she says.Â Importantly, by tracking the data and the effect ofÂ changes made to company policy, HR has been able toÂ show a commercial impact on the business.
âIdentify whatâs important for your business,â advisesÂ Megan Giannini, senior vice president and CHRO atÂ Lumileds. âIf we want attrition to improve, we need toÂ think about how effective our reward programme isÂ and how we might make that better. We can then drillÂ down into the data and identify if we need to shift theÂ strategy in certain areas.â
Technology in the Workplace
The advent of the next industrial revolution alongsideÂ the growing use of AI, machine learning, and roboticÂ technology is forecasted to change the make-up of theÂ workforce in every sector. HR professionals need to beÂ ready for these changes and have strategies in place toÂ manage their impact on company operations. But whatÂ does that entail?
Moore forecasts a great deal of change within theÂ construction industry, as digitalisation and the rise ofÂ robotics could completely automate certain elementsÂ of building work. âPeopleâs jobs will change but weÂ will still have jobs for people,â she says, adding that HRÂ industry associations should work to help their membersÂ facilitate the forthcoming transformation. âThe fact isÂ the average millennial will be doing jobs that donât existÂ at the moment and we need to make sure theyâre readyÂ for whateverâs coming.â
Learning and development programmes will have aÂ large impact as roles change. âI think employers shouldÂ think more about retraining and reskilling because thereÂ are more employees who are able to be retrained thanÂ ever before,â says Seehra.
Stewart agrees, adding that government grantsÂ target people who are trying to get back into work.Â âWouldnât it be better to change the dynamics withinÂ the organisation and reskill people within the workplaceÂ rather than having them cast out and then trying to findÂ their way back in?â he questions.
HR at the Board Level
Whilst the importance of HR to business is indisputable,Â it remains an unfortunate fact that few HR leadersÂ ascend to the very top of their organisations.
Moore says that there is a tendency within theÂ profession to underestimate the function and its impact.Â Within her role, she has been involved in many business-criticalÂ decisions, and with that comes understandingÂ the IT agenda, company finances, and putting togetherÂ clear business cases for new initiatives. âToo often, weÂ just talk about the people side of things when reallyÂ thatâs just the start of the process,â she says.
âSome people just donât want a board-level role,â saysÂ Giannini. âIf you want to take that route, you need toÂ decide early on in your career because youâre unlikely toÂ be a good CEO without different functional experience.Â I donât know if many HR professionals are managingÂ their careers like that.â
Stewart, who has made the shift to overseeing hisÂ company through his position as general manager,Â agrees that a broader business role might not be forÂ everyone and ultimately, HR professionals can only beÂ motivated by their own personal challenges and desires.
âGet to know your business, your market, your product,Â and your finances from end-to-end,â he advises. âTestÂ yourself in a way that might be uncomfortable. WorkÂ in operations and see what itâs like being on the shopÂ floor, managing large teams.â Stewart also advocatesÂ taking on non-executive roles or becoming the trusteeÂ of a pension schemeâanything that will give HR leadersÂ the opportunity to understand and get involved withÂ the wider challenges of running a business. In this way,Â HR directors can relate their specific knowledge andÂ ideas to the broader business agenda.